Yes, this is another one of those philosophical posts that result from late-night contemplation. I’m reading another history book and, as in the past when I’ve read history, I’m filled with a sense of overwhelming pain, empathy, and powerlessness against what appears to be an inevitable cycle of violence, conquest, and tyranny that fills human history both near and far. Even today, our world is not a pleasant place for many (some would argue most) of its inhabitants.
The question I continually ask myself is this: why is it that we let bad things happen?
They always seem so obviously wrong in the rear-view mirror of history; can’t we somehow avoid these events as they occur? How can one ever support ill-intentioned ideals that lead to genocide, slavery, and other horrific behavior beings inflict on other beings? As I contemplated this, I could think of, among others, four clear reasons why human history (present time included) is filled with such shameful events.
- Organization. Aggressive, acquisitive leaders tend to organize early and leverage the strength in their numbers to gain increasing traction for their cause. As their organization grows, so does their influence and their ability to accelerate their growth even further. The converse doesn’t seem to be true: those desiring peace are typically late to the organization table, finding themselves dispersed and ill-equipped to engage their aggressive counterparts.
- Lack of Understanding. Why would history’s ruthless leaders gain such traction in building their numbers? Unfortunately, too many of us lack the depth of understanding that would naturally lead us to empathy and compassion. Uninformed humans are quick to both label and blame others categorically. Sadly, without objective education and understanding, humans tend to vilify that which is different.
- Herd Mentality. A topic I’ve addressed before, humans are creatures of habit who are very eager to conform. Once a cause gains substantial traction, even if it has a vile basis, most are willing and able to conform so as to fit in. What’s worse, those who don’t want to conform suffer from a sense of being insignificant on their own: ”why bother being one of very few who tries to oppose? I can’t possibly make a difference alone.”
- Self-Preservation. Even if one is able to help by going against the herd, one’s sense of self-preservation is difficult to overcome. In most circumstances, one is forced to weigh risking their own safety or well-being against helping someone in need and, unfortunately for those needing help, the sense of self-preservation typically wins out.
While it might be a bit Utopian to hope we can overcome these factors to create a better, more morally-just world, it doesn’t hurt to try. I’d love to think that, someday in the future, human history can be more about our inventions and creations and less about our conquests over other beings. We must overcome the aforementioned weaknesses
- People are people; just because they speak a different language, have different customs, dress code, and dietary habits doesn’t make them evil. The majority of people want the same thing: the opportunity to earn a good and happy life for themselves and for their children. It is naive and simplistic to believe that there are entire cultures who despise freedom, opportunity, and the pursuit of happiness. We should proactively organize to preempt the few keen on self-interest.
- We should all study current events and history from differing perspectives; without being exposed to multiple, sometimes opposing perspectives, how can we possibly take informed positions or avoid repeating mistakes of the past? Never has humankind had ready access to different opinions and perspectives than now: the Internet has made it so mass media is only one of many sources of information.
- We should all aspire to have the courage to go against the herd, to do what’s unpopular, and to stand for what’s right to the extent reasonable for our particular circumstances. The true heroes of history are not the famous leaders of state who were in power when social change happened but, rather, the small minorities of people who fought against the herd and triggered the seeds of change while risking their well-being.
- Those of us who are strong and/or privileged have a duty to protect those who are weaker and to share that privilege with those who are less able. After all, if it’s not the strong who will help the weak, who will? People should not be punished for circumstances over which they have no control: their race, their gender, their country of origin, the family into which they were born, and so on. After all, it is not unreasonable to expect the tables to be turned and those who were once strong can then count on the support of those they’d previously helped.
Am I being too idealistic? I hope the answer will someday be no.